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What Is Unusual about a Burmese Python's Heart?

The Burmese python is one of the largest snakes in the world and generally weighs up to 200 pounds (90 kilograms). Like most snakes, a Burmese python does not need to eat very often. An adult Burmese python usually eats once a month, while the younger ones eat as often as once a week. If required, they can go without eating for longer periods of time. When they do find prey, which are usually birds or small mammals like rats and rabbits, they swallow their meal whole and digest practically everything. Burmese pythons are known to sometimes eat surprisingly large animals like pigs and alligators.

Possibly because of these eating habits, Burmese pythons have an unusual metabolic process in which some of their organs increase in size after eating. The heart of a Burmese python grows 40% within 72 hours of a large meal. The medical term for heart enlargement is "cardiac hypertrophy." Unlike cardiac hypertrophy in humans, however, which is abnormal and possibly dangerous, experts have discovered that heart enlargement in Burmese pythons after meals is entirely normal and safe.

More about Burmese pythons:

  • As of 2014, the world's heaviest snake is a Burmese python at the Serpent Safari Park in Illinois that weighs 403 pounds (183 kilograms).

  • Burmese pythons can't see very well, so they locate their prey through chemical and heat sensors.

  • Burmese pythons have special cells in their small intestines which allow them to digest bones.

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